It’s so weird to me how, during any given week nothing much seems to change. But when I drop out of life to go be near where the land broke apart eons ago, I come back to a home that seems to have grown and changed so much in my absence. The Madagascar Dragon plant is suddenly huge and lush. The cayenne pepper outgrew its modest mason jar. Some forgotten piece of fruit begat 1,000 tiny flies that my kitten tries valiantly to catch. Intimidating pieces of mail arrived instructing me to go to a hearing to appeal my property assessment. I have to go and explain to some strangers that I haven’t given my house the makeover that I intended to and beg them not to believe otherwise so that my house doesn’t become yet another dream that was too big for me.
And my son, my baby, is thisclose to starting fifth grade.
In many ways, taking a vacation at the tail end of summer is the best way to do it. The weather is pretty cooperative. The earlier crowds have already come and gone and reentered real life weeks ago. And I feel like I’ve really squeezed every last drop out of summer.
I can’t really afford to take us on big vacations, so we always graciously tag along to the lovely places that people invite us to. (Diddy Family Motto: What we lack in money we make up for with good music, sparkling personalities, an endless game of punchbuggy, and weird arguments. Take us on your vacation today!) We go to the lake with my grandparents and every few years we go to the Outer Banks with my dad.
It was especially cool to be with the baby this time. While we were at the lake he spent most of his time with his cousins, but at the beach he was with us the whole time. He’s 10 and is at this weird point where he’s still very much a kid but is really trying out not being a kid. He’s not intimidated by adults and readily joins any conversation. But his lack of skills like small talk and telling jokes that are actually funny betray how young he still is.
Early in the week, some lingering phobias about jellyfish and sharks bubbled up inside of him. He was never a big tantrum-thrower when he was younger, so I never developed any real skills for effectively calming him down. I found myself trying to stay upright in the waves crashing at my knees and saying, “Stop. Stop. Please stop. What are you doing? Stop now,” as my kid thoroughly lost his shit for about five minutes. But I reminded him that throwing him into the gaping maw of certain death isn’t really my thing.
We rented sea kayaks for the week and the baby went out in his own little kayak with my dad and the husband. As he was rowing out to sea one time, he grabbed his paddle and pumped it in the air triumphantly. Out there he saw dolphins and schools of fish. When he came back and I was helping him out of the boat, he said, “I had so much fun today!” Such a simple statement but it was so happy and sincere that I’ve been replaying it in my head ever since.
My skin didn’t exactly survive the week. I got sunburned. Twice. And got a real burn on my arm while sticking it in the oven to check on breakfast that I was making. I heard *sizzle* and realized, “Oh, shit, that’s my flesh!” I also got a few tiny jellyfish stings and about 20 nasty mosquito bites. I also did a number on my knee while bodysurfing one day. I started to emerge from the water all, “Fuck yeah, I’m a badass,” when another wave was like, “NOPE!” and smashed me into the bits of shell and rock. I shrugged at the raw blotch on my knee until I sat down and observed, “Oh. I am bleeding.”
I gasped in wonder so many times. There was a meteor shower and we were far enough away from light’s pollution that I actually got to see them flying through the sky. It’s so strange to look up at that black cloak of old light and to suddenly see it move and dance. I got to see a dolphin swim away in a business-like manner about 20 feet away from me and gently paddled my way through a thousand swirling fish.
I also started to write the story of my vacation in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: We were just outside of Corolla when the seasickness kicked in. I’m not out on the water often enough to remember that I get seasick. And being out in a tiny plastic boat is not the most ideal time to recall that fact. I did not, in fact, spew but I carefully warned my companions that if that was going to happen I wanted to not deal with the possibility of accidentally diving right into my chunks and/or watching fish eat them.
The best thing about vacation is the feeling like you can break some rules. Nothing major, like insider trading or anything. But you’re already not at work and aren’t expected to do much more than lay around all day. That kind of permission is so freeing. On Saturday, we were supposed to be out of the house by 10. And we just…didn’t. We knew that the new guests wouldn’t be there until 4. So we found a place to park the car and walked right back down to the beach. We swam in the now very chilly Atlantic (I like to think it was sad that we were leaving) until the sky turned dark grey and began to open up. We ran back to the house and peeked around corners to look for signs of people who might care. We scrambled into the outdoor showers and crafted a simple alibi in the event of capture. (“Why are you trespassing and using these showers?” “Oh. I’m so drunk!”) We toweled off fruitlessly in the brief downpour and then drove north up that narrow strip of land, the opposite direction than we should have been going to go home.
The old lighthouse beckoned to us, leading us into the safety of stolen vacation. The baby and I decided to make the climb up to the top. He charged ahead fearlessly, while I became anxious because of my inadequate footwear, certain that it would trip me. At the top, I looked out over the developed land that used to be barren when I was his age. He stuck his head through the safety railing to get a better view while I felt the need to keep one hand on the side of the structure.